Synopses & Reviews
In a novel that is at once intense, beautiful, and fablelike, Lloyd Jones weaves a transcendent story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the power of narrative to transform our lives.
On a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, where the teachers have fled with most everyone else, only one white man chooses to stay behind: the eccentric Mr. Watts, object of much curiosity and scorn, who sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and begins to read to the children each day from Charles Dickens's classic Great Expectations.
So begins this rare, original story about the abiding strength that imagination, once ignited, can provide. As artillery echoes in the mountains, thirteen-year-old Matilda and her peers are riveted by the adventures of a young orphan named Pip in a city called London, a city whose contours soon become more real than their own blighted landscape. As Mr. Watts says, "A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe." Soon come the rest of the villagers, initially threatened, finally inspired to share tales of their own that bring alive the rich mythology of their past. But in a ravaged place where even children are forced to live by their wits and daily survival is the only objective, imagination can be a dangerous thing.
"Mister Pip is sheer magic, a story about stories and their power to transcend the limits of imagination and reside in the deep heart's core. Lloyd Jones is a brave and fierce writer, and he has given us Dickens brand new again." Keith Donohue, author of The Stolen Child
"[A]ddresses ideas of place and homesickness with conviction...a worthwhile read." Library Journal
About the Author
Lloyd Jones was born in New Zealand in 1955. His previous novels and collections of stories include the award-winning The Book of Fame, Biografi, a New York Times Notable Book, Choo Woo, Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance and Paint Your Wife. Lloyd Jones lives in Wellington.
Reading Group Guide
Celebrating the timeless power of storytelling, Mister Pip
unites the stirring tale of a young girl’s quest for hope with a marvelous tribute to a Charles Dickens classic. Thirteen-year-old Matilda is coming of age on a Pacific island that has been torn apart by war. Almost everyone, including her father, has left to find work or escape the danger. Among those few who remain is the eccentric and mysterious Mr. Watts, the island’s sole remaining white man, who takes on the role of teacher and begins to read Great Expectations
aloud to students. For Matilda and her classmates, the story offers an escape from their brutal reality, while instilling in them the strength to endure in a place where nothing is certain, not even their survival. Mister Pip
celebrates individual strength, the ability of humanity to transform itself through narrative, and powerful friendships that cross cultural lines. In this gripping and imaginative novel, Lloyd Jones gives us a unique way to explore issues of faith, family, loyalty, identity, and, ultimately, the transcendence of literature.
1. Is it important that Mr. Watts is the last white man on the island? Why?
2. Why does Matilda write Pip’s name in the sand alongside the names of her relatives? Why does this upset her mother? How does this contribute to Dolores’s feelings about Mr. Watts’s instruction of her daughter? Are these feelings understandable?
3. Why do you think Mr. Watts pulled his wife in the cart? Why did he wear the red clown nose? What meaning did that have for them?
4. What is the message Matilda’s mother is trying to express to the children with the story of her mother’s braids? How is this related to the issue of Mr. Watts’s faith in God?
5. What did you think of the lessons that the mothers of the children bring to the classroom? If you were the parent of a child in Matilda’s class, what lesson would you teach the children? What might your mother have taught the class?
6. Who is Dolores warning the children about when she tells them the story about the devil lady and the church money? How does this story justify her actions regarding the book and the redskins? Do you agree with Dolores’s refusal to bring forth the book? With Matilda’s?
7. Where do you think Gilbert’s father takes Sam? How do you know? In your opinion, was it necessary that he do so?
8. Why does the corned beef in Mr. Watts’s house “represent a broad hope” for Matilda? Discuss Mr. Watts’s reaction to Matilda’s fragment. Do you believe that Grace was alive when Matilda arrived?
9. Discuss how the characters in this story struggle to reconcile the concepts of race and identity. Does it seem to dictate their interaction with each other? How does it influence their concepts of self? What moments, especially, helped reveal this to you?
10. What is the meaning of the story of the Queen of Sheba? Why does Mr. Watts bring it up? Why is it significant that Dolores is familiar with that story?
11. Why does Dolores step forward to declare herself “God’s witness” to the murder of Mr. Watts? Were you surprised that she did? Why does she insist that Matilda remain silent?
12. Do you think Matilda was able to return home? How would that outcome affect your reading of both novels?
13. Discuss your memorable experiences of being read to as a child. What book made the greatest impact on your life? Did any book come to you at precisely the right time, the way Great Expectations was brought to Matilda?
14. On Great Expectations and Mister Pip. Are both Mister Pip and Great Expectations universal coming-of-age tales? How did you react to the blending of these two distinctly different settings and time periods?
15. The initial lines of Great Expectations are reflected several times in this novel. Compare them to the opening lines of Mister Pip. What connections do these first sentences draw between the themes of both novels?
16. In what way are the narrative voices of Mister Pip and Great Expectations the same? How are they different? What shifts do you notice in the storytelling after Matilda leaves the island? How did this impact your reading?
17. How is Dolores’s treatment of Matilda similar to Estella’s treatment of Pip in Great Expectations? How does this relationship help Matilda understand Pip’s attachment to Estella? Is it necessary that this attachment be severed before Pip/Matilda can grow individually?
18. Why do you think Mr. Watts omitted the characters of Orlick and Compeyson from his telling of Great Expectations? What additional meaning might the children have gleaned from the story if these characters and their storylines, such as Compeyson’s jilting of Miss Havisham, had been included?
19. What is signified by the changing of one’s name, both in Great Expectations and Mister Pip? Why does Matilda not change her name?
20. In what ways does Great Expectations help Matilda cope with her reality and prepare her for the future? How does it help Mr. Watts deal with his past? What makes Great Expectations the ideal Dickens choice for this purpose?